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Elgin council discusses possible change in FOIA fees

Posted: January 18, 2016 5:37 p.m.
Updated: January 19, 2016 1:00 a.m.

The town of Elgin may change the way it charges for S.C. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Elgin Town Council discussed updating FOIA processing fees during its Jan. 5 meeting. Councilwoman Dana Sloan reported on a possible change in state law which could affect what municipalities can charge for a FOIA request.

“The main things about (the bill) that stuck out to me that would affect us as a town … is that we will have to make sure our FOIA forms and information are on our website,” Sloan said, also mentioning the bill’s requirement of charging a “reasonable” rate for a FOIA request. “They define that as the prorated hourly rate of the lowest paid employee with the training to complete the FOIA request and any research for that.”

Sloan compared Elgin’s current FOIA request forms and fees to other South Carolina counties. 

“Our (fees) are charged by 30 minutes. It is $15 for the first 30 minutes and $25 for each additional 30 minutes; which means we are basically charging $40 an hour for the first hour and then every hour after that we are charging $50.”

Elgin’s current FOIA fees are in compliance with current law, but would not be under the proposed changes. Sloan said a majority of other counties charge hourly rates and suggested Elgin do the same.  

“Even if this doesn’t get passed, our fees are much higher than most of the people in our area and we probably want to look at that … so that we are working towards being transparent and affordable,” she said.

Mayor Melissa Emmons said she and Town Attorney John Wells spoke about the issue. Emmons said Wells suggested council decide on a figure which is in compliance with the pending legislation. 

“He looked over what we had and some other government entities. His recommendation was we come up with a reasonable round figure that would reflect the cost of whoever handles the request. However, it’s possible there will be more than one person handling the request and wages could vary dependent on that,” Emmons said.

She said if council decides to create a fee based on employee salaries, the cost could possibly increase or fluctuate. She agreed with Sloan’s suggestion of charging per hour. 

“As Councilwoman Sloan pointed out, the majority of the organizations that I looked at is not based on 30 minute increments; it’s based hourly,” Emmons said. “Our fees, when you look at them based on that, are substantial.”

Emmons then asked Town Clerk Melony Hudson-Martin to put the FOIA documents on the website the following day. Councilwoman Candy suggested FOIA fees not exceed $15 an hour.

“That’s where most people seem to be, in the $10 to $15 range,” Silvers said. 

Council members decided to continue discussion on the matter, and determine a fee during February’s council meeting. 

During council briefings, Silvers asked about a power outage at the military salute memorial which occurred in late December.

“It has been repaired, the switches in the breakers box had been flipped, not sure what caused it but we got it repaired yesterday … It is important that be illuminated,” Emmons said. 

Silvers then asked if anything could be done to ensure the lights on the flag do not go out, especially the light on the American flag. Emmons suggested that an alternate light source could be looked into. 

“That is something that we may want to look into the future -- some kind of lighting in addition to what we currently have. We could possibly look into solar power so if … we lose power like that, it will still be lit. I think (Police) Chief (Harold) Brown also made the suggestion of looking into not only something that would illuminate the flag but also the War Dog Memorial … we could look into that the same time,” Emmons said. 

In other business, Brown updated Council on worker’s compensation insurance for the town, and one business license application was approved for Shealy’s Renovations, Remodeling and Repairs of Pelion.


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